An Unworn Pair

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Franklin was intent on dating someone who offered him no conveniences. He looked down on his friends who dated women that cut their hair very stylishly for free, or cooked gourmet meals. Likewise, he looked down on his friends who dated men that did their oil changes or helped pay their student loans. He wanted no pragmatic advantages. He saw them as sellout compromises, reminiscent of the comforts that keep older unhappy couples from divorcing – once they thought of all the hassle, the little bits of laziness they would surrender. He wanted no ignoble and petty considerations like that in his calculations of freedom or commitment. Continue reading

Doing Unto Others

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The lack of flexibility in Fundamentalist cultures and religions (you cannot masturbate, you cannot have a gay relationship, you cannot marry outside your caste,  etc) is total, and it’s undeniable this leads to a lot of man-made suffering whether you believe such suffering is justified or not. Rigidity is one of those things all Fundamentalists have in common, but the problem’s not as simple as it first seems.

I read a story in the New York Times a few weeks ago about a Nigerian court that was punishing homosexuality with whippings, and how proud the judge was of his progressive views because the law officially allowed for the death penalty – and the crowds outside the courthouse were clamoring for the gay men’s deaths. If they were surrounded by people with less Rigidity in their Beliefs, those men would not have to suffer physical abuse and possible murder.

But that isn’t exactly a fair thing to demand, see: for people to stop believing what they believe. After all, isn’t that what they would say, the intolerant villagers, of people whose opinions they disagree with? That they should stop believing what they believe? Tolerant beliefs are better than intolerant beliefs but. It’s no better to force tolerant beliefs on others than to force intolerant beliefs – that would innately make the tolerant beliefs intolerant. Continue reading

The Invention of Youth, or, Are You A Real Adult?

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It’s a commonly-taught aspect of history that kids-as-kids, helpless and cherish-able beings who should be provided a nurturing and protective lifestyle completely different from adults, didn’t exist before the modern era. A hundred years ago, grade-schoolers had to toil in the factory or the field and get their hands whacked off by machinery or be immolated cleaning out the chimney flue. Only recently has society started to think of childhood as a thing and books like the new All Joy and No Fun by Jennifer Senior explore how we’re still trying to figure out and codify what childhood is (but this is not a book review about that book).

More recently, in my generation and maybe the one right before it (us Millennials and our big siblings the Gen-Xers), there has come an extension of young-adulthood into a nebulous grown-adolescence gray area of Twentysomethings.

The average age at which we get married and start having children is older than anyone before (almost 30 for those with college educations). The average age at which we leave home is older than anyone before (Millennials have the sad reason that old people destroyed our economy and left us no jobs; Gen-Xers were just disaffected and stoned). The expectation of immediately beginning a long-term career with one company and starting to climb the ladder like a corporate puppy is gone, because in the new market people change jobs every few years and no one is rewarded for staying in one place. Continue reading

Every Hand’s A Winner

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I’ve been a male cheerleader for Matthew Quick’s writing since the quirkily insightful and laugh-out-loud-worthy Silver Linings Playbook, which he followed up a few months back with the Young Adult novel Forgive Me Leonard Peacock (which I reviewed). Now he’s back with another novel for grown-ups, The Good Luck of Right Now. It follows his trend of an emotionally damaged main character most people would call “different” on a journey of self-discovery with a colorful cast of friends. Does it find another strange formula for meaning, or just re-hash the same old ground? Continue reading

Keeps No Record of Wrongs: A Valentine’s Day Story

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When Callista started dating Colin Raffaeli, I had to break them up.

You have to understand how terrible Colin Raffaeli is. Imagine Colin Raffaeli pulling up with his friends in his gigantic off-roading pickup with those monster truck tires I’ve never even seen at a dealership (where do you get monster truck tires?), Lil Wayne blaring at that bass level that’s so distorted you hear the car vibrating more than any music.

I didn’t have to imagine because I was watching the driveway from behind the French blinds in the front sitting room by the foyer, under our track lighting. Colin Raffaeli was wearing a big white Abercrombie polo and big khaki cargo shorts and big brown flapping flip-flops. You could almost smell the body-spray on him.

Continue reading

All the Small Things

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Some people like to start conversations with “What would happen if.” What would happen if there was a black-ops team that hired out to help you get actual closure after a relationship by erasing all traces of the ex’s existence? What would happen if the guy who invented that “A train leaves Chicago at” math problem was upset that he never received adequate compensation? What would happen if you secretly won a big cash prize in a box of Frosted Flakes when you were 10 but your parents were staunchly opposed to sugar cereal– you get the idea. 

For most people, these become a running gag of conversation with the kind of friends who tolerate that sort of thing. For author B.J. Novak, famous from his work as actor and producer on The Office, they became a book of stories: One More Thing. The question is, is it any good?
Continue reading

The People You Meet

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“That’s so true,” she said.

I looked up from my Maki roll. “What is?”

She showed to me her phone, on which was a picture of fuzzy stock-art of two hands clasping over a candle with a quotation in intricate white Gothic-font text on top: “Life Truth #754: When The People Most Important In Your Life Are The Ones You Didn’t Expect.”

I said, “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen.”

She looked surprised. “No, it’s not,” she said.

“You’re implying there’s something unusual or special about people you care about – I assume you’re thinking a best friend or a boyfriend – that it’s somehow a unique magical thing that you didn’t expect to meet them or expect them to become important to you?”

“It’s true for me.”

“No, it’s categorically true. That’s why it’s stupid to say. Like if you say, ‘Isn’t it crazy that when I lose something it’s always in the last place I look?’ Because then you didn’t look anymore.”

She had this wide-eyed expression. “Ohhhh-kayyyy,” she said, drawing it out like you would for an accosting hobo. Continue reading